How to Write Emotional Headlines to Get More Shares

Here at CoSchedule, we recently hit 5,556,914 headlines entered into our Headline Analyzer tool.

That’s a lot of headlines.

With this massive resource, we began wondering what, exactly, made a highly-shared headline so shareable. Could we find a way to predict whether or not a headline would be well-shared?

You may be surprised to hear that we found just such a thing.

When we combined our massive database of headlines with our social sharing analytics and top content reports, we were able to get a unique view of the answer to this question. It all comes down to something called the Emotional Marketing Value (EMV) score. This is the result of a simple test used to provide an actual rating that can be used to judge how well our headline will be received by others.

Write More Emotional Headlines with This Free Power Words Tear Sheet

So, how should you go about writing more emotional headlines?

Start by understanding what constitutes as emotional. Copywriter Karl Stepp offers a great list of highly emotional words that he calls “power words for emotional selling.” As a handy guide,  I have converted them to this handy tear-sheet that you can download right here.

How Do We Know Emotional Headlines Drive More Shares?

We went through a bunch of the headlines in the CoSchedule system and calculated their EMV score. The results were stunning. Posts with a higher emotional value got more shares. Period.

Posts With a Higher Emotional Value Get More Shares

What we found was that on average, posts with a higher EMV were shared more often than posts with a lower EMV score.

Posts with a high number of shares frequently reached an EMV Score of 30 or 40, several points higher than posts with fewer shares.

The results are pretty cool, but how does this score even work?

How Can The Emotional Value Of A Headline Be Calculated?

Emotional marketing value dates back to the 1960s and 1970s when government research scholar Dr. Hakim Chishti was studying the roots of several languages including Persian, Aramaic, Hebrew, Arabic, and Urdu.

As it goes, his research found that there are basic underlying harmonics in language that are always interpreted with the same “emotional” reactions. Where dictionary-based meanings can be mistaken, the sound tones themselves are always interpreted the same way in our emotional response. This means that emotional language creates a very predictable response, something that can be very advantageous to marketers.

Want to use Click to Tweet on your blog?

The Emotional Marketing Value is a score that looks to asses how a group of words follows these emotional harmonics, and how likely they are to elicit an emotional response from a reader.

The Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer  is a tool based on the research that is made freely available by the Advanced Marketing Institute. Using it can easily provide you with such a score.

Emotional headlines analysis

Can this tool predict shares? Maybe.

The Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer is easy to use. Simply copy and paste your headline into the box and it will give you a calculated score of your headline’s EMV Score. Here is the result for the headline of this post:

Write more emotional headlines

The tools provide a more complete explanation of the score:

This score indicates that your headline has a total of 44.44% Emotional Marketing Value (EMV) Words. To put that in perspective, the English language contains approximately 20% EMV words.

And for comparison, most professional copywriters’ headlines will have 30%-40% EMV Words in their headlines, while the most gifted copywriters will have 50%-75% EMV words in headlines.

A perfect score would be 100%, but that is rare unless your headline is less than five words.

Scores are also classified by three emotional types – intellectual, empathetic, and spiritual. The institute provides a few details on what each of these emotional types include.

Three Emotional Types for Headlines

As an example, the emotional classification for this post was intellectual – a perfect fit for CoSchedule, as we are looking to promote a product that requires reasoning and/or careful evaluation.

After we saw what EMV can do, we thought it would be helpful to build a new headline analyzer. This free tool combines EMV with several other elements we’ve found drive shares, traffic, and SEO results.

Write Better Headlines With CoSchedule’s Free Headline Analyzer

Screenshot of the Headline Analyzer

Here at CoSchedule, we test 20 to 25 options in the Headline Analyzer before choosing a final headline.

Our free Headline Analyzer will help you:

  1. Use headline types that get the most traction for social shares, traffic, and search engine ranking.
  2. Make sure you have the right word balance to write readable headlines that command attention.
  3. See the best word and character length for search engines like Google and email subject lines, while also seeing how your readers will scan your headlines.

Start by visiting the Headline Analyzer page and entering your headline:

Headline example in the Headline Analyzer

Then scroll down to the bottom of the page. Here, you’ll find the emotional sentiment your headline conveys:

Emotional sentiment in the Headline AnalyzerPlus, if you’re a CoSchedule user, the Headline Analyzer is built directly into our platform:

Screenshot of the Headline Analyzer built into CoSchedule

There you have it! In moments, you’ll get a quick emotional analysis of your headline.


Positive/Happy Emotions Do A Better Job Encouraging Shares

Here’s what our top 20 most shared blog posts look like based on emotional sentiment:

  • Ten are positive
  • Nine are neutral
  • Just one is negative

This is a small data set, but it appears the anticipation of benefits drives more shares.

Anticipation is the feeling that we get whenever we find something (like a blog post) that sparks our curiosity. We immediately begin to anticipate the contents of that post and wonder what we might find on the other side. When it comes to anticipation, our emotions will play a big role in how we finally respond to our own curiosity.

Anticipating positive (or happy) events sustains the output of dopamine into the brain’s chemical pathways, and as renowned marketer Neil Patel says “scientific experiments show that most people anticipate future positive events, as opposed to future negative events. In the absence of anxious/depressive psychological disorders, people automatically anticipate happiness more than they do sadness.”

Scientific experiments show most people anticipate future positive events ...

Scientific experiments show that most people anticipate future positive events, as opposed to future negative events. – Neil PatelClick To Tweet

So, this all begins to add up. Not only do emotions cause us to share, but positive emotions seem to add an additional boost. If we look back to the three emotional types – intellectual, empathetic, and spiritual – we can easily see a distinct trend towards positive emotions and happiness. In short, popular headlines don’t only trigger our emotions, but they help us imagine a positive outcome.

They help us imagine a better life.

Want to use Click to Tweet on your blog?

Headlines In Action: Some Emotional Headline Makeovers

Let’s take a headful of headlines and look at how we can instantly add or adjust the language to make them more positive and/or more emotional. We will also calculate the precise EMV score for each to see where they fall. See for yourself how EMV can literally transform a headline in an instant.

  • Existing Headline: Calculating Retail Prices (EMV 0)
  • New Headline: Calculating Retail Prices Can Be Hard Work (EMV 42)
  • Why It’s Better: It validates something that the reader is already feeling, and offers a promised (and positive) solution.
  • Existing Headline:  The importance of setting goals and not reaching them (EVM 22%)
  • New Headline: You Shouldn’t Always Reach Your Goals (EVM 50%)
  • Why It’s Better: It helps the reader feel better about occasionally falling short. They will read and share because it validates them as a person.
  • Existing Headline: Tips for Keeping Your Taxes Organized All Year Round (11%)
  • New Headline: Super Easy Ways To Keep Your Taxes Organized All Year (40%)
  • Why It’s Better: The new headlines promise simple and easy advice. This is certainly more motivational than plan old organization.
  • Existing Headline: Great men are not born great, they grow great (22%)
  • New Headline: Don’t Worry, Great Men Aren’t Always Born Great (50%)
  • Why It’s Better: Again, there is HOPE for everyone to be great. This is highly emotional and overwhelmingly positive.
  • Existing Headline: 12 Top Tips For Excellent Business Writing (14%)
  • New Headline: 12 Easy To Follow Tips For Better Business Writing (33%)
  • Why It’s Better: These tips will not only make my business writing better, but they are also easy to follow. It’s a win-win.
  • Old Headline: Small Business Line Of Credit: Is It Right For You? (20%)
  • New Headline: How Do You Know A Small Business Line Of Credit Is For You? (31%)
  • Why It’s Better: Not only is it easier to read, but it attaches itself to the readers own worries and fears.
  • Old Headline: 7 Ways Your Brand Can Benefit from Content Curation (12%)
  • New Headline: 7 Ways You Will Benefit Through Content Curation (38%)
  • Why It’s Better: Replace ‘can’ with ‘will’ adds confidence. Replacing ‘your brand’ with ‘you’ as a personal connection. ‘Through’ adds a level of spiritual emotions.

Pretty cool right? The great news is that some of these headlines didn’t even change all that much in order to become more emotional.

It is also encouraging to see that emotional headlines don’t always equal the overly sensational headlines that we often see on Upworthy or Buzzfeed. We don’t need to oversell our content in order to write a better headline. That much is for sure.

How to Write Emotional Headlines

Copyblogger has published a great list of common “trigger words” that can be used to make emotional headlines. Frequent Copyblogger contributor Jon Morrow has also published a great list of 317 “power words” that can be used to empower your headlines with more emotional impact. These are great resources that will help you add some emotion to your headlines.

Once you know the lingo, you just need to make EMV a regular part of your process. Here is the process I recommend.

1. Write 25 headlines

I recommend that you write 25 different headlines for every post before you made a final selection. This is a process practiced by Upworthy itself and has proven transformational for my own blogging.

2. Calculate the Emotional Marketing Value for each headline

I find that writes are often surprised about what makes a more emotional headline, so I recommend running each headline through the EMV tool. As you become more experienced this won’t be necessary, but it is a good place to start.

3. Eliminate Anything Below 30 (and Shoot for 40+)

Our data showed that the most shared headlines scored and average EMV between 30 and 40, so this is where you should set your sites. I use 30 as a minimum, but seek to reach 40 or more as often as I can.

4. Squeeze Out a Few More Drops of Gooey Emotion

Once you have a good headline, go back to the ‘power words’ list and see if you can squeeze out a few extra drops of emotion. I usually find that I can gain a few extra points by swapping a few words or simply rearranging their order.

5. Publish, Test, and Evaluate

You just need to pick one and see what happens. We like to repost our content frequently on Twitter and will regularly use alternate headlines in place of the original as a way to mix things up, and A/B test our own assumptions. On many of my most popular posts, I have found the the winning headline was actually completely rewritten by the audience. Sometimes, you just never know.

Of course, no matter how high your headline EMV score is there are no guarantees of shares, but at least you will have made every possible effort.

You will still want to continually test your headlines by sharing your content on social media more than once and see what works for you individual audience. Make sure your content marketing, and your headlines, are always driven by results.

Want to use Click to Tweet on your blog?

This post was originally published on July 22. 2014. It was updated with new information on Jan. 20, 2017.